Every day, I hear more women making excuses for 50 Shades, and for the behavior of Christian Grey in the book. And this weekend, I heard a lot of those same excuses, from a childhood friend of mine. Not about the book. About her marriage.
Without giving enough detail to reveal identifying information, let me tell you her situation. She met a guy from a rich family, and she married him. He doesn't like her family, though, so she doesn't really see them anymore. She sees his family. And he doesn't like her friends, either, so she doesn't see them anymore. She sees his friends. They go on expensive vacations, all over the world, and they go to rich people parties. But she's not happy, because he calls her names, he won't let her have her own money. He has rules she has to follow, and he reacts poorly if she doesn't. She confessed to us that she was afraid of him - her words, "I'm afraid of my husband," - and then immediately made an excuse for having said it. And she has reason to be afraid of him. He's currently being charged with felonious assault against the teenage son of a neighbor. "He does have a bad temper," she said, in the understatement of the year. Her name is on none of their property, though they do have a joint bank account that he monitors to make sure she doesn't take out "too much". She can't let the laundry go too long, can't let the dishes stack up, because he has a temper.
But she's not abused. "He's never hit me."
I have no doubt in my mind that she'll be a inset photo on the cover of People magazine someday soon, one of those women who "falls" off a cruise ship or gets "accidentally" left behind on a scuba trip after an argument with her husband. I'm not a good enough writer to tell you how hearing all of this made me feel. All I can say is that my heart hurts. It makes me feel helpless, and it makes my heart hurt.
And it makes me angry. It makes me furiously, violently angry at every woman who falls for the "romance" in 50 Shades. It makes me furiously angry at the author of 50 Shades, who I have refrained from commenting on at the risk of being accused of professional jealousy or attacking her. But I'm angry enough now that I want to attack her, I want to attack someone, something, anything. I want to be able to protect my friend, but I can't, because she has been brainwashed by our misguided culture, that tells women over and over how much they want a guy like Christian Grey. Well, a person I love, a person I was at one time so close to that we would literally dream in sync, snagged her own, real life Christian Grey. This is the result. The people around her won't be surprised at all when she disappears. We're building up our defenses against it, and planning for it, so it doesn't bowl us over. Because there's nothing else we can do. We know we're more likely to lose her than save her. She's standing at the base of an oncoming avalanche, and any move we might make to help her will just bury her deeper.
There is nothing I can fight against. I can't hit something or smash something to make this go away. All I can do is watch as silly, stupid women shovel their money (the be all and end all of power in our culture) into the hands of another silly, stupid woman, creating a sick circle-jerk of abuse as romance. And now I hear that E.L. James is writing a YA novel. Brainwash them while they're young. Make sure we train women to know their place right out of the gate. But can I even blame those women, or E.L. James? She isn't the puppeteer here, she's the puppet. Christian Grey, 50 Shades, those aren't the cause of the problem, they're a symptom. And E.L. James is as brainwashed as the rest of us. I can't even be angry at her.
"The War On Women" is a phrase thrown around a lot lately, and it makes us think of unsmiling, upright Christian men in suits bartering our personal freedoms for money to dig for oil. But the real enemy is our culture, and the attitudes that lead women to devour 50 Shades, to tweet that they'd let Chris Brown hit them. Even in my own attitudes and writing, I see problematic themes, and I rush to excuse them. We're all making excuses, we're all being victimized. Women are in an abusive relationship with the culture that surrounds us.
I don't know how to fix any of this, but now that I've seen it, I can't forget it. In the meantime, I'll just wait. Wait for the call where I learn that someone I have loved fiercely is dead, because she's been told her entire life to excuse a multitude of sins so long as no one is hitting her. Wait for the return to conservative Christian values that will make me a prisoner in my home country again. Wait for the next pop star to abuse a woman and get a pass for it, wait for the next big best seller to confirm to men that women really do want to be treated like human garbage, wait for the wives of America to find another thing to chat about behind their hands on the playground.
That's what we're doing. We're all waiting, standing in the middle of a building on fire, trying to warn people so they can save themselves. And they argue that they like the smoke, and they're happy to burn.
There is a real, human cost here. All I want is for someone to acknowledge it.